Monday, September 13, 2010

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1969) review


Ursula Howells (Mumsy), Pat Heywood (Nanny), Howard Trevor (Sonny), Vanessa Howard (Girly), Michael Bryant (New Friend), Imogen Hassall (Girlfriend), Michael Ripper (Zoo Attendant)

Directed by Freddie Francis

The Short Version: This bizarre and grotesque horror film laced with a playfully sinister air is one of the most unusual British horror features. Acting as a darkly humorous fable complete with nasty nursery rhymes and predominantly implied violence, Freddie Francis turns out one of the more curious and largely ignored European oddities.

A family of aristocratic homicidal maniacs lure unsuspecting victims back to their home for child like games that prove fatal should they break the rules. One particular individual manages to survive long enough to turn the tables on this sick family causing them to turn on each other.

The family that slays together, stays together in this unusual and obscure British black comedy horror film. Freddie Francis (DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE) directs this modest, yet deliciously nasty little film about a solitary family of crazies who enjoy bringing people to their home (predominantly vagrants) and pushing them into participating in "tea and games" before killing them when they fail to obey the rules.

Fans of films about psycho families will likely draw comparisons with Jack Hill's SPIDER BABY (1964). In that film, this bizarre and quite mad group of children lorded over by the family chauffeur lure victims to their secluded mansion and kill them in violent games in addition to keeping some of their cannibalistic relatives in the basement. For Francis' movie, the crazies live in a decrepit old worlde mansion away from society save for when they get bored with each other and desire the company of "outsiders". On this one special occasion, the outsider turns the tables on his delightful tormentors giving new meaning to the words "Family Matters".

While possessing an incredibly dark comical charm, the movie never crosses over into gore territory despite its sordidly gruesome aura. The violence and also the sexual nature of the film is handled mostly offscreen. This whimsical black comedy horror movie comes off like a live action version of a children's book written by De Sade. None of the characters have real names. They're all given random nicknames such as "Soldier", "Friend in Number 5" and "New Friend". The latter is responsible for introducing his own style of "games" that destroys this tight knit clan of playful murderers.

The stunning Imogen Hassall is in this briefly

The movie failed to find an audience at the time and may find itself with the same problem today on the digital format. Definitely a cult film, the most devout British horror fans are the ones who will get the most out of this picture. Quirky and often resembling a terribly grim Grimm's Fairy Tale, it's not a movie for everybody. No doubt this will find the most favor with those with a taste for the bizarre and movies whose power lies in what is alluded to and not always shown.

This review is representative of the Scorpion Releasing DVD

Assorted Bits & Pieces: RIP Kevin McCarthy, Code Red DVD On Life Support, Italian Film Review, Missing Reel & Stats

Before I get into some news and other stuff, I would like to point out that Nigel Maskell, the dedicated and profoundly knowledgeable owner of Italian Film Review asked me to be a contributor to his site a few months back. If you haven't already, and you're a fan of Italian genre movies (who isn't?), you should serious head over there and check out Nigel's site filled with capsule reviews of items Al'Italiana.

Also, select reviews I've done here can be found at Missing Reel, a superlative website on everything exploitation. Run by Kurt Loyd, if you're a lover of the drive in and 42nd Street, you should park your car, or buy yourself a ticket and indulge in the trashy goodness exploitation cinema has to offer from Kurt Loyd and David Walker at Missing Reel.

Terrible news this past September 11th-- Kevin McCarthy, an actor of many movies and television programs among his long showbiz career has died from pneumonia. Although he has appeared in many great genre shows such as THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE WILD, WILD WEST, McCarthy will likely be best remembered for his role as Dr. Miles Bennell in the superlative science fiction/horror political allegory, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). He also reprised his manic final moments from the original in Philip Kaufman's provocative remake in 1978.

He also appeared as the main villain in the Italian western, ACE HIGH from 1968 with Terrence Hill, Bud Spencer and Eli Wallach, the second of a trilogy that began with GOD FORGIVES...I DON'T! (1967) and ended with the awful BOOT HILL (1969). He also played the sleazy promoter in the gritty roller derby flick KANSAS CITY BOMBER (1972).

Later in the 70's McCarthy apparently became a favorite performer for the great Joe Dante as he appeared in quite a few of the fantasy specialists movies such as the mad doctor from the huge fan favorite, PIRANHA (1978). He was good at portraying wide eyed, raving pseudo madmen and Dante gave him plenty of breathing room. He played a slightly less mad man in Dante's THE HOWLING (1981) as radio station manager, Fred Francis. But it was back to off kilter characters with his role as Uncle Walt in one of the best segments of the uneven and much troubled TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983). McCarthy again essayed a mad scientist bent on world domination in Dante's lively and lovably enjoyable INNERSPACE from 1987. Yet one more wonderful screen personality has gone to the great beyond.

There's more sad news, or at least impending bad news as yet another independent DVD label will be closing up shop soon. Code Red DVD, the enterprising juggernaut that launched an impressive slate of titles and even more yet to be released will reportedly be closing its doors by summer of 2011. Due to poor sales and a cavalcade of disgruntled "fans" nitpicking over small issues, it seems this label is deciding to pack it in as opposed to braving the waves of a rocky economy. Many of these hypocritical "fans" choose to illegally download, or simply not buy because the documentary isn't in HD (insert other complaint here). They then later complain when their "favorite movie" isn't coming out. It's a lose-lose situation it seems. Oh, well, you can't make everybody happy.

I suggest these individuals bust open those piggy banks and rally those pennies and start their own DVD company so they can put out all those obscure nostalgia-centric movies they claim to be buying, or don't buy because the disc is interlaced, or doesn't have a Criterion level of restoration done to the print. They can also do justice to the movies that the licensors apparently aren't doing. Hopefully, Code Red will hang in there even though it doesn't seem likely at this point. I do hope that their canceled release of RITUALS (1977) will surface before the doors are closed.

And now for some stats and what people are reading, or stumbling upon for whatever reason. It seems for the last week or so, articles have superceded reviews for the most part....


3. SINS OF CELLULOID 5 -- Surprisingly, this fifth entry has had the fastest rise and the slowest start. I went a little overboard with this entry packing it full of brief rundowns of various crazy Asian movies. Some I left off for a future entry. It's just a few clicks away from overtaking the above entry and also it's the second biggest article on the site.


5. THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS -- This is the only review that ever managed to get to the number two spot, but has since dropped down to #5. Must have been the boobs. Great movie, too.

6. INQUISITION -- This tastelessly well done Naschy movie isn't going anywhere it seems.


8. MONSTER KID MOVIE MEMORIES PART 2 -- This one trailed part one, but now has surpassed it. Logging what few remnants of nostalgic joy still in my brain pan was a lot of fun.


10. MONSTER KID MOVIE MEMORIES PART 1 -- I had a good time putting these two together and the main reason I did was personal so as to help keep these memories alive and to share with others who may have similar memories. I'll probably do a part three.


12. INDEPENDENT DVD COMPANIES: BATTLES WITH BOOTLEGS, CHAIN STORES & AN ECONOMICALLY CRIPPLED CLIMATE -- I'm very opinionated on this subject and this was something I wanted to put together for a long time. These guys putting out these movies are the true fans and when they're all gone, they're gone.

16. THE LAST SHARK (1980)

17. ITALIAN CRIME CINEMA: BLOOD IN THE STREETS & A DECADE OF VIOLENCE PART 3 -- This third entry dealing predominantly with selected works of Fernando Di Leo is the most hit of the four available so far.

18. TOUGH GUYS FILES #1 -- This is the first in a series detailing bad ass dudes of cinema that I've grown accustomed to over the years. This one is dedicated to the great and extraordinary William Smith, an actor whom I'm hoping to be able to meet one day and shake the hand of one of the most versatile and accomplished performers the world has ever seen. Upcoming installments will feature Charles Bronson, Gordon Scott, Hwang Jang Lee, Maurizio Merli and Sonny Chiba.


20. MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973) -- One of the best releases from the allegedly soon to be defunct Code Red DVD. Come on, guys, get out there and support this company if you can!

This September 17th marks two years of Cool Ass Cinema. I thought it had been one year, but time has slipped up on me, apparently. I may be involved in other things that day, so I am taking this time to graciously thank all those who follow, read, peruse, or just check out the pictures. A big, huge thank you to you guys. If you don't wish to comment, or want to shoot me an email, I can be reached at Again, thanks for stopping by!

Remakes: Redux, Or Ridiculous? -- Killer Fish Bite Back

Publicity shot not in the movie...unfortunately

For this entry of RRR, we look at Joe Dante's seminal killer fish epic and how its new version stacks up to it. This is...

PIRANHA 3D (2010) VS. PIRANHA (1978)

PIRANHA (1978): Joe Dante's aquatic carnivore classic hits all the right notes delivering some exciting thrills on a low budget during a time when a little went a long way. A loving tribute to monster movies of old, this New World hit has it all--blood, gore, nudity, jokes, monsters and genre faves Barbara Steele and Kevin McCarthy among a stellar cast. This great late 70's creature feature has something many of today's horror movies lack--a little heart and soul.

PIRANHA 3D (2010): Alexander Aja's revamped tale of underwater horror is a faithful, if different rendition of the earlier picture. The film does pay homage to Dante's movie while devising its own identity hellbent on being as trashy as humanly possible. Aja has created the ultimate guy movie by taking 3D to places not yet explored--the mountainous regions of many pin up models and porn stars.

Notice the similarity in color and tone between posters for PIRANHA '78 (above) and PIRANHA 3D '10 (below). Review for the original PIRANHA here

The 1970's provided some of the best and most memorable killer critter movies themselves the natural progeny of the atomic creature features of the fabulous 50's. One of the most popular and profitable was Joe Dante's PIRANHA from 1978 (Corman's own remake in the mid 90's for the Showtime cable network is best forgotten). One of New World Pictures biggest box office hits, the movie has enjoyed a massive cult following over the years culminating in a much publicized 3D redux from Alexandra Aja. After taking seemingly forever to get made, fans got to see the results late this past August.

The much welcome retro look of one of PIRANHA 3D's poster artworks

Judging from the trailer alone, it's apparent there's little connection to Dante's original aside from the primary location. There are similarities and also subtle homages (or winks) to the '78 original. If any director could do a remake right, it would be French director, Aja considering his impressive and highly entertaining remake of Wes Craven's THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006). Aja is obviously a fan of the Corman produced killer fish flick and manages to maintain that films tongue in cheek sensibility while modernizing his version in the process.

PIRANHA 3D (2010)

The plot itself is a veritable SyFy Channel hodgepodge with massive trainwreck potential, which may be why the film failed to draw bigger numbers than it did. So much similar fodder is found for free on cable that PIRANHA 3D could easily be passed off as a motion picture that cleverly and deceptively bypassed its destiny as a television premier and made the transition to a theatrical release... and that's what it looks like, but with much better special effects.

International artwork for the original PIRANHA (1978)

But one look at the storyline of PIRANHA '78 reveals far too many borrowed plot points that would quickly become tiresome in the new millennium's 'Nature Amok' movies. A secret military weapon, genetically engineered piranha, are accidentally let loose into the water supply of a riverside community. The new film changes this to have our fast moving fish as prehistoric nightmares unleashed from a seismic underwater disturbance. The original takes place over the course of several days while the bulk of the new movie takes place over a single day.

Above and insert: PIRANHA (1978)

The ingenious puppets maneuvered by rods from the original are now replaced with that damnable CGI that has nearly ruined the handmade craftsmanship of many an FX artist. Still, two of the former founders of KNB, Nicotero and Berger are on hand to provide dozens upon dozens of extremely gory appliances. Their work is most evident during the big Spring Break blood bath sequence where hundreds of people are maimed, mutilated and devoured by the flesh eating fish, or even by self serving and simply scared individuals trying to save themselves. There appears to have been an intention to totally outdo the original with this chaotic bloodbath and the effects artists involved succeed with flying colors (mostly red).

Above: PIRANHA (1978); Insert: Elizabeth Shue in PIRANHA 3D (2010)

Just like with his HILLS remake, Aja tips his hat to the New World original on several occasions that will be easily picked up on by fans of the first film. The first casualty during the extended Spring Break gore ghoulash is also a nod to the first lake victim from the original movie. It's a swimmer sitting inside an inner tube; it's a man in the '78 version and a woman in the '10 film. Another homage is the welcome addition of Richard Dreyfuss revisiting his Matt Hooper character from JAWS (1975). Not only is Dreyfuss decked out in the same attire, but he's singing the same song he and Scheider and Shaw were belting out aboard the Orca in the Spielberg classic. Unlike JAWS, though, Dreyfuss doesn't come away unscathed. Some of the shots in PIRANHA 3D echo those from the New World film and both sequences are played dead straight. Both films know when to deliver a chuckle and both know when to hammer its audience with some serious horror.

Behind the scenes with Richard Dreyfuss from PIRANHA 3D; image from Entertainment

Dick Miller: What about the goddamn piranhas?!

Waiter: They're eating the guests, sir....

The humor in Dante's film is born out of the situation and the personality of the characters. Some of this humor is subtle nuances in the dialog and others are in-jokes that hearken back to those grand creature features of old. For the new version, the humor is much more "primitive" utilizing goofily gruesome sight gags, or AMERICAN PIE styled shenanigans. Examples of this are the underwater nude ballet with classical music accompaniment and a brief fight between two piranha over a severed penis. The former is an amazingly accomplished piece of trash that will likely go down in cinema history as a milestone in three dimensional appreciation. Any future films with 3D scenes dedicated to the beauty of the female form will have a hard act to follow with the tasteful collage of scantily clad and inebriated ladies on display in Aja's picture. The latter bit recalls a similar scene of things to do with severed male members in STREET TRASH (1987), another filth flick of the lowest common denominator.

Above: Paul Bartel saddened over the lifeless body of a child in PIRANHA (1978); Insert: PIRANHA 3D (2010)

The violence, while extreme in both movies, is a little bit darker in the Corman produced version. Children aren't above being devoured while victims in Aja's movie are either soulless pricks, or individuals there to fatten the gore quotient. The ending with the character of Jake rescuing his girlfriend mirrors the ending of Dante's movie (in that film, Bradford Dillman ties a rope around his waist to enter a submerged building in an effort to pollute the piranha to death with a toxic substance) although it defies logic that this kid would go under the boat to get to the girl as opposed to simply going down into the waterlogged cabin. Still, movies seldom succumb to logic and if this scene adhered to it, it would be far less dramatic.

Even the new films soundtrack cover mimics the DVD cover for the Antonio Margheriti piranha movie, KILLER FISH aka THE DEADLY TREASURE OF THE PIRANHA (1978); review of the film here

DVD cover for the Italian disc for KILLER FISH (1978)

Did I enjoy PIRANHA 3D? Hell yes. It was possibly the most eagerly anticipated movie for me aside from that brain cell barren atrocity that was CLASH OF THE TITANS 2010. Aja's movie delivered on its promise. Did I think it was better than the Roger Corman production? Not really. Maybe it's down to nostalgia, but that picture has a unique charm indigenous to Dante's other movies; not to mention it has a dynamite score from Pino Donaggio and also Dick Miller as the seedy lake resort owner. The new movie doesn't have one, nor does it have much in the way of character development aside from one or two people.

Yet again, PIRANHA 3D imitates another killer fish flick. Here, you'll notice similarities between Cameron's PIRANHA 2 (1981) poster artwork (above) and that of the new 3D movie (below)

But like many other genre product these days, audiences don't want characters, they want lots of mindless blood and gore and sex, the equivalent to the high calorie popcorn and candy they indulge before and during the show. On that level, PIRANHA 3D (2010) makes the gory grade. Now what we really need is a remake of James Cameron's underrated PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING (1981) in 3D. Maybe the King of the World can come down from his TITANIC ego trip long enough to make that one happen.

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